Monday, August 02, 2010

what i read in july

When I'm not posting photos on Facebook or eating Trader Joe's sun-dried tomato pesto directly from the container or Googling "bed bug stains" (don't worry--the funny marks on my box spring are something else, possibly cat-related...although that's probably not cause not to worry), I obsess over books. Books and writing are probably the only healthy obsessions I have.

Here's a review I wrote for Gently Read Literature if you're like, Dammit, those capsule reviews re-posted from Goodreads just aren't long enough.

Testimony by Anita Shreve:
This novel tracks the lead-up to and fallout from a prep student orgy that gets taped and posted online. Shreve calls upon many (possibly too many) characters to tell the controversial and mysterious story: the school's headmaster, the boys involved, the girl involved, their parents, their roommates, a reporter, a cop, a lunch lady...the list goes on. I was a little unnerved by the girl--Shreve's characterization of her suggested her reason for writing the novel might be to point out how one little manipulative slut can ruin things for everyone. But after some interesting structural architecture and a few revelations worthy of a whodunit, I decided she was more interested in how everyone (including teachers and parents) can ruin things for everyone. The book ends on a thoughtful, c'est-la-vie note that redeemed some of its tedious procedural quality for me.

Neverwhere by Neil Gaiman:
The premise is clever and irresistible: What if the London Underground actually led to another world, full of people who talk to rats and open doors with their minds and protect magical keys? Gaiman riffs off station names; hence Knightsbridge is a nightmarish bridge the book's journeyers must cross. The mix of fantasy and reality is to my liking. The writing is often funny, if sometimes more genre-y than I'm comfortable with (dangling ellipses, repeated adjectives). Although the idea that London Below is populated by people who've slipped through the cracks of London Above is interesting and political, Gaiman's imagination shines more in the details than in the thematics. I started reading this book in England, as I was familiarizing myself with the Tube map, which made those details extra fun.

The Good Life by Jay McInerney:
The novel opens with great epigrams from John Cheever (about the mysteries of middle age) and Ana Menendez (about the passions evoked by tragedy), but it left me thinking I should read John Cheever or Ana Menendez instead of this book. The main characters are a WASPy Tribeca mom and a disaffected Wall Street guy, both married to other people. When the fall of the Twin Towers prompts them to fall for each other, I got the feeling the author wanted us to think that their affair was special because 1) it's triggered by tragedy and 2) unlike their cheating spouses, these two are smart and deep. After the book's melancholy conclusion, I decided McInerney was saying that people never change, but sometimes they change for a minute. So basically my assessment ranged from shallow to depressing.

Truck by Katherine Dunn: A gritty stream-of-consciousness narrative of a teenage runaway, this novel reminded me more of Lynda Barry's Cruddy or Cynthia Kadohata's Floating World than Dunn's own Geek Love (which I loved). The narrator, Dutch, is one of those tomboy straight girls who seemed to occupy all the books of my youth (where are the femmey queer girls?! But I'm getting off track here). She has kind parents but feels suffocated by her small Oregon town in a way she doesn't quite understand, so she plots to truck down to Los Angeles with her weirdo friend Heydorf. The strangest and most interesting thing about this novel is how the first half flashes back and forth (without even a paragraph break to warn you) between a dark, murky present and snapshots of Dutch's home life. It then eases into a more linear story, but ends in a spot that seems to negate the possibility of the first part of the book. I wasn't sure if this was a highly experimental meditation on the power of fantasy and the many possible futures that await people, or if I just missed something.


Nicole Kristal said...

You read four books in July? Wow, you really don't have cable. I'd write more, but I feel so shamed I must find my reading glasses... oh wait, they're replaying "Buffy" Season Five...

Cheryl said...

Well, AK would be quick to point out that I read two and "read" two others (i.e. listened to the books on CD during my long-ass commute).